The War of Terror

Why has Justin Trudeau betrayed a Canadian survivor of torture?

The Liberals once supported Abdullah Almalki, but now they’re fighting him in court
Photo: Damien @ Flickr

The prime minister of Canada is complicit in the persecution of an innocent Canadian.

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Justin Trudeau now shares this ignoble indictment with several other prime ministers, including Stephen Harper. Together, they have been content to watch, like disinterested bystanders, while Abdullah Almalki and his family — a wife, six children and his ailing parents — have endured for years what no Canadian family or citizen should ever have to endure. And, incredibly, their persecution continues to this day.

Left to torture

First, the family was abandoned by their government when Almalki, an Ottawa engineer, was falsely branded a terrorist and illegally detained and tortured by a foreign government.

Second, the family later discovered that powerful elements within the Canadian government, most notably the RCMP, were instrumental in tarring Almalki as a terrorist by trafficking in worthless “intelligence” about who and what he was.

“It is a continuation of the oppression, of the injustice that the government and its agents have been inflicting on myself and my family for the last 16 years.”

Third, the Canadian government was indirectly responsible for Almalki’s illegal detention and subsequent torture — beginning in May 2002 and lasting for 22 months, much of it in a coffin-like cell in Syria — despite knowing, beyond any doubt, that he was not a terrorist.

While in custody, Almalki was beaten repeatedly with a cable and kicked with wooden shoes. Stripped, he was forced to sit inside a tire for hours, while he was struck about his feet, head and genitals. Bloodied, exhausted, despondent and temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, Almalki’s torture continued for weeks.

Fourth, Canadian diplomats and the RCMP reportedly conspired to prolong Almalki’s detention and torture even after Syrian thugs masquerading as intelligence officials were prepared to release him.

Almalki returned to Canada in August 2004, only after family members travelled to Syria and pressed for his release. The Syrian State Supreme Security Court acquitted him of all terrorism-related charges and released him on $125 bail.

Long road to truth and redemption

Since then, Almalki and his family have tried to hold senior government officials to account. They have taken the long, arduous road toward truth and redemption in the face of the debilitating physical and psychological residue of the horror that Almalki experienced. He still struggles to overcome this horror every day with the help of devoted family and friends who donate their time, expertise and money to aid in the fight for justice.

Towards that end, it must be noted that all of the odious, discreditable history I have just described has been largely confirmed by two federal commissions of inquiry struck to find out why Almalki and several other Canadians were shipped like discarded luggage to the Middle East and subsequently tortured, with the knowledge and consent of the Canadian government.

Rather than abiding by their word and presumably solemn votes, the Trudeau government did a shocking volte face.

To date, only one of those torture survivors, Maher Arar, has received a formal apology and compensation from the federal government. Almalki, along with two other torture survivors, were compelled to file a hefty lawsuit against federal officials after Prime Minister Stephen Harper effectively rejected both commissions’ key findings that Canadian officials had indeed played an undeniable role in their detention and torture.

Harper’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge this fact is certainly in keeping with his singularly petty, obstinate and ugly nature. What is mildly surprising, however, is Trudeau’s inexplicable decision to ultimately side with Harper and, in so doing, instruct Justice Department lawyers to continue a financially and emotionally draining pitched legal battle with Almalki and company.

But here’s the breathtakingly offensive aspect of Trudeau’s astounding decision to treat the Almalki family like expendable, make-believe-story-telling charlatans. On two occasions while in opposition, the Liberal Party of Canada voted in favour of the government finally issuing an apology and compensation to Almalki and the other men.

Liberals flip-flop from opposition to government

In 2009, Liberal members on the Standing Committee on Public Safety joined their NDP colleagues in calling on Harper to apologize and pay “reparations” to Almalki, Muayyed Nureddin and Ahmad El Maati “for the suffering they endured and the difficulties they encountered.”

Later, the committee’s majority report about their imprisonment and torture was tabled in Parliament, where the Liberal caucus, including Trudeau himself, voted yet again to demand that Harper offer the trio an unconditional apology and compensation as part of a long overdue official remedy to “do everything necessary to correct misinformation that may exist in records administered by national security agencies in Canada or abroad with respect to” the men and their families.

Almalki had hoped that the Trudeau government’s slight shift in rhetoric was a faint but welcome signal of a belated change in attitude.

Fast forward to early February 2016. Rather than abiding by their word and presumably solemn votes, the Trudeau government did a shocking volte face and told the Almalki family that government lawyers would, in fact, continue to challenge them in court.

The promised apology and reparations had vanished. Instead, the family is facing several more years of trying uncertainty and difficult questioning, this time with the approval of the very politician that just a few years earlier had insisted they were the victims of an egregious, state-sanctioned injustice.

“It is a continuation of the oppression, of the injustice that the government and its agents have been inflicting on myself and my family for the last 16 years,” Almalki told Ricochet in an interview.

Trudeau’s supposed reasoning for double-crossing the Almalki family is a classic and predictable example of another craven politician capitulating in order to satisfy the parochial interests and demands of Canada’s unaccountable national security apparatus, rather than righting a dreadful wrong visited upon an innocent man and his family by a government that should have protected them.

Stripped of its legal embroidery, Trudeau’s spurious rationale for compounding the Almalki family’s pain goes something like this: Look, we need to protect the names of our spies and keep our secrets secret. Oh, and by the way, we don’t think Mr. Almalki is telling the whole truth.

It is unconscionable.

But Trudeau’s shameful duplicity doesn’t end there. “The government will take the necessary time to conduct a proper and thoughtful review,” a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told a reporter in March, “with due consideration given to the seriousness of the allegations, as well as the complex legal and policy issues raised in the case.”

Translation: We know two exhaustive commissions of inquiry costing as much as $35 million have already cleared Mr. Almalki of any phantom ties to terror and that our cops and spooks were complicit in his detention and torture. But we’re going to drag this out in court as long as we can because beyond a few pesky reporters, lawyers and human rights activists, who really knows or cares much about Mr. Almalki and his family, anyway.

Traumatized all over again

Still, Almalki had hoped that the Trudeau government’s slight shift in rhetoric was a faint but welcome signal of a belated change in attitude towards his case. Regrettably, he soon discovered he was wrong.

Earlier this month, as part of discovery process related to the civil suit, Justice Department lawyers again “cross-examined” at length not only Almalki, but also his wife, two oldest children and his elderly mother. Almalki says an RCMP officer — tied to the now discredited original probe of him — was present throughout several of the interviews. As well, government lawyers wanted to cross-examine his frail 91-year-old father in person, but agreed, reluctantly and at the last moment, to conduct the questioning in writing.

“My family has been re-traumatized,” Almalki said.

There is one man who can end this disgraceful treatment of a Canadian family in an instant. But he must opt to do the right and humane thing, instead of protecting the government officials who were culpable in the trauma that the Almalki family has experienced for far too long.

The cynic in me doubts that, despite his “sunny ways,” Justin Trudeau will do the right and humane thing. I suspect that the courts will order the Trudeau government to make amends to the Almalki family sometime after the case goes to trial in January 2017, or it will cynically wait to settle the potentially prickly and embarrassing matter out of court on the eve of that looming date.

Either way, the prime minister’s betrayal of Abdullah Almalki and his family will be an indelible stain not only on Trudeau’s tenure as prime minister, but also a callous continuation of the policies of the prime minister he defeated by vowing to restore the Canadian “values” of fairness and charity at home and abroad.

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